Racist Graffiti Makes Regional Headlines, NYS Hate Crime Team Steps In

On the morning of Monday July 22nd, the Geneva Police Department issued a press release acknowledging the two racist graffiti incidents that struck downtown on June 6th and July 15th, and requesting the public’s assistance in solving the cases. The two incidents had been spotlighted in a Geneva Believer story the previous day.

Chief Mike Passalacqua spoke to regional TV and print media, while City Councilor At-Large Mark Gramling issued a statement. Both expressed their disgust over the recent hate crimes while praising the efforts of the Community Compact.

Geneva City Councilor Mark Gramling and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo

By the afternoon of Tuesday July 23rd, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force would be directed to assist the Geneva Police Department in the investigation.

In at least two interviews, Passalacqua claimed that he could not recall another time during his 17 year career that such an incident occurred. But in 2007, a strikingly similar hate crime took place about 650 feet from the June 6th Elm Street incident. How could Chief Passalacqua forget?

45 Days

On the afternoon of Friday July 19th, Geneva Believer emailed a request for information regarding the recent hate crimes committed in our city. Just before noon on Monday July 22nd, Chief Passalacqua sent a reply, along with the press release.

“At this time, we do not have any new information or leads that we are working on which is one of the reasons I have asked for the help of the public at this time.”

– Chief Mike Passalacqua

Perhaps the reason the Geneva Police does not have “any new information or leads” is because for 45 days, or about 6 1/2 weeks, they didn’t ask the public for information or leads.

It’s hard to imagine a valid reason why any police department would find a swastika and the phrase “white power” on a storage shed adjacent to a downtown public parking lot and essentially keep the incident quiet for 45 days.

A quick web search finds example after example after example after example of racist graffiti incidents in other cities where local police and government officials responded immediately (often on the same day) with statements strongly condemning the hate crime, and asking the public for their help with the investigation.

The Way Things Have Always Been Done

In interviews with WHAM and WHEC, Passalacqua stated that he could not recall any similar incidents in Geneva over the last 17 years, even saying it “never” happened before.

“”I’ve been a police officer for 17 years, In my 17 years, I don’t recall anything of this nature ever being reported to us,” said Passalacqua.”

Yet twelve years ago, in 2007, the Geneva community was shaken by an incident of racist graffiti on Patterson Avenue, as reported in the Finger Lakes Times (“New graffiti in city disturbs residents (Jan 23 2007)”)

“Spray-painted on the south wall of Bill Long Home Improvements, at 8 Patterson Ave., were the words “White Power,” “G-Town,” and “KKK.” “KKK” was also painted on a Dumpster next to the building.”

Former Geneva Police Chief Frank Pane

Former GPD Chief Frank Pane responded by minimizing the incident, claiming that racist graffiti targeting white, Chinese and Puerto Rican people had also been reported.

“Chief Frank Pane said there have been a few reports of graffiti in the area lately, and he noted the writing has attacked various groups, including caucasians and those of Chinese and Puerto Rican descent. Pane said most of the graffiti is “just hogwash” that doesn’t pick on any particular race or ethnic group.”

There is no mention of an investigation related to the racist graffiti, but Chief Pane had at least one potential theory of who the culprits might be:

“Pane said it is possible that a number of people are involved, possibly young kids.”

It should be no surprise that Chief Passalacqua, who learned much about the culture of policing in Geneva from former Chief Pane, would forget about the 2007 incident.

Pane didn’t think racist graffiti invoking the Ku Klux Klan was a serious enough issue to ask for the public’s help in the investigation.

Passalacqua doesn’t think racist graffiti invoking the Ku Klux Klan is a serious enough issue to ask for the public’s help in the investigation.

Passalacqua’s failure to respond to hate crimes in our downtown is simply the way things have always been done by the Geneva Police Department.

Community Compact AGAIN Shields Cops From Criticism

In 2017, when a Geneva Police officer was discovered to have posted numerous racist memes on social media, city officials responded by reminding everyone of the work of the Community Compact.

It is impossible for an officer with this ideology or mentality to effectively protect and serve all citizens within a community with such great diversity!

There has been collaborative efforts through our Community Compact with GPD, and the city, working directly with community leaders of color for a more cohesive relationship.

– Mark Gramling, City Councilor At-Large

Later in 2017, when the former Chief of Police was discovered to have violated the residency requirement in his contract and kept money he had been given to pay for his move in 2011, city officials responded by implying that the Chief’s involvement in the Community Compact was more important than holding him accountable.

“The resolution, which called for the $2,500 to be returned to the City of Geneva was seen as a way to continue the progress made through the Community Compact. Gramling said it would be a blow to the entire community if Trickler were to leave his leadership post with the Geneva PD.”

And sure enough, in 2019, when the Geneva Police Department is under heavy scrutiny from the public and media, city officials are sure to start bringing up the Community Compact again. This time, it’s Gramling and Passalacqua.

“Leaders of the Community Compact, including Geneva Police Department, and city officials have been working together for a more inclusive Geneva and these actions go against everything we have been working together for.”

-City Councilor At-Large Mark Gramling

Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua

“With the city of Geneva’s history not only with the police department, but as a community we’ve had some divides and we’ve been working tirelessly for the last number of years through the NAACP and Community Compact and different community organizations to bridge that divide.”

– Chief Mike Passalaqua

After nearly 8 years of Community Compact meetings and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars paying for the Compact, we still have a police chief who doesn’t think that racist graffiti merits a full investigation, passively tries to cover it up, and only responds when it happens a second time and the public starts asking questions.

The Community Compact is a police-led effort designed to give the impression of real change while continuing to uphold the same failed culture of policing that has existed in Geneva for decades.

The Community Compact continues to obstruct efforts for real police reform in Geneva by giving the public the impression that something is being done about the police problem in our city. The Compact hurts our communities.

The City of Geneva needs a citizen’s police accountability board now more than ever.

NYS Steps In To Assist The Bumbling GPD’s “Investigation”

On Tuesday July 23rd, one day after Chief Passalacqua’s awkward media blitz and 46 days after the first downtown graffiti hate crime was discovered, the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was directing State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to assist the GPD in their “investigation.”

The City of Geneva and the GPD may try to spin this development into something “positive,” but make no mistake: this is an embarrassing turn of events for Passalacqua and company.

In the July 24th Finger Lakes Times article announcing the Task Force’s involvement with the investigation, Passalacqua stated that he didn’t know what “(the Task Force) can offer at this point.”

“We were just asked yesterday if there was anything they (the Task Force) could do. I don’t even know what they can offer at this point,” Passalacqua said. “It remains to be seen if they can do anything we aren’t doing already.”

Rather than being grateful to have more resources to investigate two horrific hate crimes, and pledging to work together with all law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice, Passalacqua instead responds by questioning whether it’s even worthwhile for the State Police to get involved.

This was Passalacqua’s first big public relations challenge since being sworn in as chief, and he has failed every step of the way.

And if we compare the Governor’s statement to Passalacqua’s statement on the incidents, it becomes even more clear that Geneva’s chief just doesn’t get it, and is in way over his head.

Cuomo’s full statement:

“I am appalled by the Swastikas and other vulgar, racist symbols of hate that have been found scrawled on buildings around Geneva, New York, including on a church.

“In New York, we have zero tolerance for such vile acts of hate and intolerance. I have directed the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to offer assistance to the local authorities in the investigation of these hideous acts and hold those accountable to the full extent of the law.

“Symbols and slogans such as the ones seen around Geneva are meant to intimidate and divide, but our response is crystal clear: there is no place for hate in our state, and we will always stand together against discrimination.

Passalacqua’s statement one day prior:

“As the Chief of Police for the City of Geneva as well as a City resident for most of my life, this type of divisive display on any property within the City of Geneva will not be tolerated at any level. The rich diverse makeup of our City is one of the best attributes we have that make the City of Geneva as beautiful as it is. As in any case, I assure you that any and all leads that are received will be followed up on.”

Notice Passalacqua didn’t use the words racist, hate, intolerance, vile or vulgar.

He simply called the hate crimes in downtown Geneva a “divisive display.”

Is it any wonder the State Police are getting involved?

It’s OUR Problem

Alas, the New York State Police aren’t going to save Geneva and fix our police problem.

The US Department of Justice isn’t going to save Geneva and fix our police problem.

The Community Compact (controlled by the police chief and city manager) isn’t going to save Geneva and fix our police problem.

Only our community can fix our community‘s police problem.


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